Venus in Winter by Gillian Bagwell – Book Review, Guest Post and Giveaway

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I received a free copy of Venus in Winter from the publisher for my honest review.

About the Book:

On her twelfth birthday, Bess of Hardwick receives the news that she is to be a waiting gentlewoman in the household of Lady Zouche. Armed with nothing but her razor-sharp wit and fetching looks, Bess is terrified of leaving home. But as her family has neither the money nor the connections to find her a good husband, she must go to facilitate her rise in society.
When Bess arrives at the glamorous court of King Henry VIII, she is thrust into a treacherous world of politics and intrigue, a world she must quickly learn to navigate. The gruesome fates of Henry’s wives convince Bess that marrying is a dangerous business. Even so, she finds the courage to wed not once, but four times. Bess outlives one husband, then another, securing her status as a woman of property. But it is when she is widowed a third time that she is left with a large fortune and even larger decisions—discovering that, for a woman of substance, the power and the possibilities are endless . . .

About the Author:

Gillian Bagwell’s richly detailed historical novels bring to vivid life England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Venus in Winter, based on the first forty years of the life of the formidable four-times widowed dynast Bess of Hardwick, begins with Bess’s introduction to the court of Henry VIII just as the king weds Anne of Cleves. Bess quickly learns to navigate the treacherous waters, and survives the turbulent reigns of five Tudor monarchs to become of the most powerful women in the history of England
The Darling Strumpet puts the reader smack in the tumultuous world of seventeenth century London, charting Nell Gwynn’s meteoric rise from the grimy slums to triumph as a beloved comic actress, through the cataclysmic years of the last plague epidemic and the Great Fire of 1666, to the licentious court and the arms of the king.
The September Queen (U.K. title The King’s Mistress) is the first fictional accounting of the extraordinary real-life adventure of Jane Lane, who risked all to help the young Charles II escape after the disastrous Battle of Worcester in 1651, saving his life and the future of the English monarchy.
Gillian uses her years of experience in theatre an actress, director, and producer to help authors give effective public readings, through workshops and private coaching.
Her life-long fascination with British history and dedication to research infuse her novels with a compelling evocation of time and place, and provide fodder for her non-fiction writing, including articles on “Frost Fairs on the River Thames,” “The Royal Miracle: The Biggest What-If in English History,” and “1660: The Year of the Restoration of Theatre”. Gillian blogged her research adventures for The Darling Strumpet and The September Queen, including the day-by-day events of Charles II’s dramatic escape after the Battle of Worcester.
Please keep visiting Gillian’s website,, for more on her books and upcoming events.

Before my review I have a very special Guest Post from Gillian Bagwell! You all know how much I love to cook but I have never cooked with roses so I’m going to learn something right along with you! Enjoy….

Cooking with Roses
by Gillian Bagwell
These days, we don’t use flowers in cooking very frequently. I’ve had fritters made of squash blossoms, and dandelion greens are sometimes used in salads, and nasturtiums are said to have a peppery and pleasant flavor.
But in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, roses and other flowers were used in cooking. In particular, the delicous scent and delicate flavor of rose blossoms could be added to recipes in the form of syrup or by other methods of conservation.
Mrs. Sarah Longe, Her Receipt Book, was published in about 1610. It included not only recipes for food, but also formulas for making herbal remedies.
Here are a few of her recipes using roses:
To Make Conserve of Roses
Take rose-buds, clip off the white at the bottom, then weigh them, and take to a pound of roses three pounds of loaf sugar. Beat the sugar very fine. Beat the roses in a stone mortar, and strain in the sugar in the beating of them. Beat them one hour or longer, till they are very finely beaten, then put it up in your gally pot.
To Make Sirrup of Roses
Take damask roses and pick them, and put them in a bottle of water as many as you can well thrust in, and keep it in a close pot in a warm place, and shift it every second day till it be nine times shifted. Then strain it and put it to a quart of liquor one pound and a half of sugar. You must shift them from the seeds.
Honey of Roses
Take red rose buds, and white clipped of them. Take a pint of the best honey and stir in it as many leaves as you can, then set it in a skillet of water over the fire. There let it stand while it is ready to boil. Then set it in the sun, shift it three or four times every two days, beating of it every time.

Gillian Bagwell’s novel Venus in Winter, based on the first forty years of the formidable four-times Tudor dynast Bess of Hardwick, was released on July 2. To find links to Gillian’s other posts related to the book, please follow her on Twitter @gillianbagwell, on Facebook,, or visit her website,

My Opinion:

This is my third book by Ms. Bagwell and I can tell you that I was jumping up and down when given the opportunity to review it. I can tell you that I will be jumping up and down if given the opportunity to review her next book. She is one of those authors where I see her name on the book and I would read it without even checking out the synopsis – I just KNOW that I am in for a well researched, well written engrossing novel.

Venus is Winter was no exception; I took it on my vacation and like her two other books I read it in one sitting. I find that once I start I am part of the world of the protagonist and it is very hard to leave. In this case that protagonist is Bess of Hardwick, a woman who rose from practically nothing to become one of the most wealthy women in England. Much is left to history of Bess from her life after she married her last husband, George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury but not much of the years preceding. Venus in Winter takes on the task of bringing Bess’s early years to life.

Since little has been left to history about her life Ms. Bagwell has created a world of “what might have been” given Bess’s known locations and intelligent supposition. She uses the history of the time to predict how Bess might have felt or reacted to the swirling politics of the times. Bess was fortunate in her marriages and each one advanced her standing and fortune. She also seems to have been a very intelligent and shrewd woman.

The brilliance in this book comes more from the writing that pulls you into the mood of the times and uncertainty that came with the succession of monarchs from Henry VIII, to Edward VI to Mary I to Elizabeth I. How does a person stay safe, how does a person keep their fortune, how does a person proof their loyalty? Ms. Bagwell makes her readers feel all of the upset that the people of the time must have felt.

Bess herself was a little more of a struggle for me. Perhaps because so little is actually known of her from this period in history and it was a matter of placing her into events instead of having her drive events. I don’t know. Unlike some of the historical characters from the other books by Ms. Bagwell, Bess was still a bit of an unknown character. I enjoyed the history, I loved the reading but I can’t say I left the book loving Bess.


You can read my review of The Darling Strumpet
You can read my review of The September Queen

You can purchase Venus in Winter at
You can purchase The Darling Strumpet at
You can purchase The September Queen at

The Giveaway:

One lucky US reader will win a copy of Venus in Winter. How do you win? Just hop on the Rafflecopter. Good luck everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Venus in Winter from the publisher for my honest review. I received no compensation for this post.


  1. says

    I haven’t read any of her other novels…but the reviews have attracted me. Would love to win one, thanks.

  2. says

    No, I haven’t read any of Gillian’s books yet, but I love history and this looks wonderful!

    sallans d at yahoo dot com

  3. says

    These books sound very interesting but I’m prejudiced against the covers. Yes, there I’ve admitted it :( I just want them to be more realistic with more substance rather than the overcolored Barbie version :/ Yes, I know…I’m a difficult woman 😉

  4. says

    i have yet to read any of Miss Bagwell’s books, but i certainly look forward to reading them soon!!

    thank you for the giveaway!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

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